The P2P Foundation advocates a multi-modal approach to social change. This recognizes that the economy and society consists of different modalities of human production and exchange, that they have always co-existed, but in different configurations and that these configurations can be dominated by one of the modalities that will then ‘transform’ the others. Thus, for us, the issue is, how do we strengthen the modality of the commons, under the domination of the capitalist market, and eventually, how can the commons modality itself become the dominant attractor again.
Our first inspiration was Alan Page Fiske’s relational grammar. This year, we discovered Kojin Karatani’s Structure of World History, which gives a very strong coherence to a historical understanding based on such a multi-modal approach.
Yesterday, I discovered the work of Dave Elder-Vass who talks about a ‘complex of appropriative practices’. But we are also inspired by the work of Dmytri Kleiner and Baruch Gottlieb, who formulated a similar approach, but which we did not fully understand until recently.
Part One: Dave Elder-Vass on Complex of Appropriative Practices
Dave Elder Vass writes:
“Wage labour alone is not enough to give us canonical capitalism, since people may work for wages in a variety of non-capitalist contexts such as government deparments. Nor is commodity production enough to give us canonical capitalism, since commodities may also be produced by individuals working alone, in family businesses that do not pay wages, or in co-operatives (Gibson-Graham, 2006b, p. 263; Sayer, 1995, p. 181). We may even have both wage labour and commodity production without canonical capitalism, notably in state-run enterprises. Canonical capitalism is thus defined by a certain complex of appropriative practices rather than by any specific appropriative practice.
This concept of a complex of appropriative practices, I argue, has several advantages over competing understandings of economic form.
Both the neoclassical orientation to markets as the only significant economic form, and the monolithic conception of a mode of production are inadequate for theorising the range of economic forms in diverse economies. This section will examine some of the ways in which the concept of complexes of appropriative practices allows us to theorise social relations more flexibly.
The first is that there is no difficulty in theorising the coexistence of multiple economic forms. There is no longer a conflict, for example, between the belief that capitalism is an important element of the contemporary economy and the recognition that it governs only a minority of productive processes, and thus there is no longer a need to obscure the significance of the gift economy or indeed of other non-capitalist economic forms that coexist relatively stably alongside capitalism. Given this, we can reject the attempt to reduce all contemporary class relations to capitalist appropriation of the product of wage labour that is characteristic of the most vulgar Marxism, and start to theorise the social relations and practices of appropriation that characterise these other complexes. We need not, for example, ignore the appropriation of caring services by children in households because Marxism implies that this would make children exploiters of their parents, but rather examine the complex of processes in which this occurs as an economic form in its own right. We can escape from the hidebound pigeonholing of all social relations into what Folbre and Hartmann have called ‘a formulaic set of class processes’ (1994, p. 59) – those few patterns that Marxists believe have dominated epochs.
As well as examining the coexistence of multiple complexes of appropriative practices within the economy we now have the tools to examine such coexistence within specific sites or social entities. The fact that commercial firms are the site of capitalist practices is no longer a theoretical obstacle to recognising that they may also be the site of other forms of appropriative practice. Nor is the argument that households are the site of gift-forms of appropriative practice compromised by recognising that they may also be the site of wage labour, whether it is capitalist (e.g. when an agency supplies cleaning staff) or not (e.g. when a self-employed cleaner contracts to provide a service). The household, in this perspective, becomes the site of moments of appropriation that operate within the frames of a variety of different complexes of appropriative practices. It is, we may say, a mixed economy of practices in its own right. Struggles within the household over the division and control of domestic labour may then also be theorised as struggles over the mix, struggles over which complex of appropriative practices is to prevail in which circumstances.
Relaxing the requirement that an economic form must correspond to the dominant form of an epoch also makes it easier to theorise varieties of a form.
It may also be useful to think of some complexes of appropriative practices as hybrid forms … To get hybridity, we need other types of economic form as well as the capitalist type. Although I have questioned whether there are other coherently identifiable modes of production than capitalism, there can still be other types of complex of appropriative practices. One candidate is suggested by the idea of the gift economy: there is a wide variety of complexes of appropriative practice in which voluntary transfers of goods or services are made without any expectation or obligation to make a return transfer. Some complexes are hybrids of both capitalism and the gift economy because they include both the practice of capital accumulation and the practice of making transfers of goods or services as gifts. Such hybrids are decisively capitalist and yet simultaneously the sites of more progressive practices.”
Part Two: Dmytri Kleiner’s (Telekommunisten) Intermodal Approach
Dmytri Kleiner writes:
“We often say we live in a Capitalist society, but yet this does not mean that all forms of producing and sharing that occur within our society are Capitalist. This is more than evident when looking at social relations in family and personal life, in intentional communities of various kinds, within co-ops and other non-capitalist organizations, the charity and profit sectors, and, of course, the emerging world of peer-production including free software, free culture, etc. It’s quite clear there is a lot more going on than just Capitalism. When we say we live in a Capitalist society what we mean is that Capitalism is the dominant mode of production, and as such, it is able to apply the greatest amount of wealth towards its own expansion and the enforcement of its interests. As a result, our private and public institutions, including our law making and financial institutions are set up according to the interest of this dominant mode.
We can not change our society, neither the public or private institutions that make it up, nor the laws and financial constraints that are imposed without first building the capacity to overcome the capacity of those who resist such change.
Only when the commons based economy exceeds the market based economy can we achieve a society that is organized around the interests of creating wealth for the many instead of creating profit for the few.
Starting with the Kaleckian model, Y = Cw + Cp + I that introduces classes on the consumption side, by dividing consumption into consumption of workers (Cw) and consumption of capital (Cp), Kalecki is able to isolate profit as P = Cp + I. Reasoning that Cw = W, In other words, reasoning that workers spend whatever they earn. This assumption is of course true within capitalism. However, if we understand that Capitalism itself, while dominant, exists among several other modes occurring simultaneously, we need to take this into a different direction. If the commons-based economy must become the dominant economic mode, then instead of understanding the level of profit within the capitalist sector, we need look at relative growth between the capitalist and communist sector, in other words between the sectors that produce for private profit and the sectors that produce for public wealth, the predatory sector and the co-operative sector.
To do so, we move Kalecki’s class division to the investment side, since with capitalism, workers spend everything they earn, but in the more complex social context that capitalism exists within worker’s also invest. So our starting point becomes Y = C + Ip + Iw. With Ip representing Capital’s capacity to invest, and Iw representing workers’ capacity to invest, as result as both classes have the capacity to invest in production.
We now divide C, not on classes, but on mode, creating Cm and Cc, market based consumption that returns profit to it’s investors privately, and Cc, commons based consumption that does not capture profit privately, and returns wealth to society collectively. This gives us Y = Cm + Cc + Iw + Ip.
This now allows to us divide these two sectors as Capitalism, Ym = Cm + Ip and Yp and Communism, Yc = Cc + Iw. So, from a macroeconomic view, you could say that the revolutionary aspiration of May 1 is to make Yc > Ym, and thereby overcome the dominance of Capital on our society.
In order to understand how this might be possible, we need to look at the flows of value between the two modes. We can not assume that workers will only invest in the commons and consume from it, nor can we assume that Capital will only consume and invest inversely.
We started to include this last week by drawing on the way import and export between nations is included in macroeconomic identities, adding “net imports” to the model, so to expand what we have above with N, Ym = Cm + Ip + Nm and Yc = Cc + Ow + Nc. Nm and Nc representing the net relative imports of each mode. Being net imports, Nm + Nc would equal zero as these would balance out by definition.
If, in balance, workers consumed the products of capitalist controlled production more than capitalists consumed the products of workers controlled production, then they would have a trade deficit with the capitalist sector and thus have relative reduced economic power as a result, capital would increase it’s dominance, conversely, if worker’s could create a intermodal trade surplus with capital, then then would decrease, and perhaps eventually overcome the dominance of capital.
Likewise, investment can also flow between the sectors, for instance workers buy shares on the stock market, and capitalists may, for instance, finance the development of free software.
It’s hard to identify such intermodal capital flows as investment, since from a class perspective they don’t directly reproduce the wealth that was used, as returns aren’t recaptured according to the relative mode, thus such investment is not directly “valorized.”
Production in capitalism is driven by exchange value, a capitalist commodity can not properly be considered produced until it consumed in such a way that creates more capital. As Capitalism is not directly concerned with producing things because they are useful, but because it is profitable. When the commodity is just given away the “productivity” of the producers who made it is calculated as zero, since zero capital was recaptured.
Therefore, I propose to call such capital flows “Sustentation,” where value creation within one mode is sustained by inflows from another. Individual capitalists may benefit from such sustentation, and often do, such as the capital cost reduction that free software provides to business that use it. However despite the benefit to some specific businesses, such flows represent a drainage of capital from the point of view of the class as whole, as this expenditure is not directly valorized, and even replaces potential valorized consumption, such as expenditures on commercial software made unneeded by using free software.
Likewise, workers’ using their retained earnings to buy stocks can be be understood as a similar sustentation. This drains wealth from the commons-based economy as to sustain capital finance, even though individual workers may privately benefit, by essentially becoming tiny capitalists.
We can add net sustentation to the model as follows. Ym = Cm + Ip + Nm + Sm and Yc = Cc + Iw + Nc + Sc. Excluding taxation, which is not intermodal, so activity in both modes is subject to the same government, we have a complete macroeconomic picture of class struggle and can start discussing how venture communism, counterpolitics and insurrectionist finance can be employed in the struggle.”